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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
May 20, 2004
Mrs. Bush's Remarks in Media Availability in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Reginald Chavez Elementary School
Albuquerque, New Mexico
10:55 A.M. MDT
MRS. BUSH: Hello everybody. I'm so glad to be here today at Chavez -- Reginald Chavez Elementary School here. This is a Blue Ribbon School. I'm sure you've already written or reported on that, but it's the only Blue Ribbon School in New Mexico. It's just one of 250-some-odd across the United States.
One of the reasons I'm here today, though, is because since it's almost the last day of school, I wanted to encourage the students to read over the summer. Albuquerque is going to be part of the Summer Reader's Achievement Program, which is part of the No Child Left Behind Act. It's a pilot program that was started in Atlanta last summer. This summer, it was expanded to a number of cities around the United States including Albuquerque. And the goal of it is to encourage children in kindergarten through eighth grade to read over the summer, which will mitigate the loss in reading skills that research shows takes place in students, especially low-income students who leave school in the spring and don't pick up a book all summer and then come back in the fall and they really have to start over again on a lot of their reading skills.
The way Albuquerque was chosen was because they -- Albuquerque has a lot of community involvement. The Chamber of Commerce is involved in encouraging people in Albuquerque to read. And the cities chosen around the United States for the No Child Left Behind Summer Achievement Readers, summer reading achievement program, are all cities that have a lot of community involvement like Albuquerque.
So I'm here particularly to encourage parents in Albuquerque and all over the state of New Mexico to take their children to the library this summer, to get a library card for their child, ask the librarian for help. Librarians are very happy to help recommend books that are the reading level of children that are coming in to check out books, so that children read.
And especially in Albuquerque, we want children in kindergarten through eighth grade to read 10 books this summer. That's the goal of the program. Read the books, make a list of the books they read so when they start school in the fall, they can show their schools that they read 10 books over the summer.
Part of the program includes the book distribution. Children here at this school will be given books. Before they leave the school year, they will be given two books, and there are sponsors like Target and Scholastic that are part of the program.
So I'm really excited to be here for that, to be in Albuquerque, since they are one of the cities that were chosen, and particularly to be at this school because it's a Blue Ribbon School. So now I'll be glad to answer your questions.
Q I know with this No Child Left Behind, a lot of teachers here in New Mexico are very concerned that this requires so much testing and time taken away from the classroom. What would you say to them?
MRS. BUSH: Well, I think it's very, very important. The testing piece of No Child Left Behind is one of the most important parts of it. It's not punitive, it's not to punish either students or schools; it's just to find out which students need extra help.
I visited a school yesterday in Portland, Oregon, that tests all the time, every two or three weeks. They use tests that are one to two minutes long. And then teachers can readjust their curriculum, they can give special attention to students because they know those students need special help. And one of the teachers there said that before they -- they happened to be a Reading First school, which this school is not, but there are Reading First schools in New Mexico. But before they started this, they tested once at the end of the year. And then what they found out at the end of the year was which children they had missed. And it was too late then to help those children and to intercede in a really important way in their curriculum.
And children are in school such a short time, it's really incumbent upon all of us, as teachers, as policymakers, as principals, as community leaders, to make sure we don't waste their time. We fail them if we waste their time while they're in school. So the testing piece of it is very, very important.
The states devise their own curriculum. The states devise their own testing. So it's really up to the states to decide what they want the curriculum to be, what they want the students in their state to know, and then how they're going to test them on what it is they want them to know.
But we'd never go to a doctor and say, you can't run tests on me to diagnose my problems. And we just can't do the same thing to our children. We can't say we're not going to test our children. Because then what happens is what has already happened, and that we all know, and that's children who no one pays attention to, they may get all the way through, they get to the ninth grade, they can't read, and that's when they drop out. And it's just not fair; it's not fair to them and it's not fair to children to let that happen.
Q Mrs. Bush, you've now seen the act at work for a couple of years now. If there is anything about it you would like to see improved or changed, what would that be?
MRS. BUSH: This is what I want to say about the No Child Left Behind Act. It is difficult, it's hard. It requires a lot of organization on the part of the states and the local school districts and the teachers, especially if you're applying for specific grants under the No Child Left Behind Act, the Reading First grants, for instance, which is money a lot of times to retrain teachers in the new research on how to teach reading.
It does require a lot of organization. But it's absolutely incumbent for states to be organized. If states are organized with what their goals are, with what their focus is on their students, what they want it to be, then they're much more likely to use the money in a way that really benefits students.
One of the whole ideas behind No Child Left Behind is the idea of being able to close the achievement gap. We've had Title I money, Title I schools for many years in the United States. But still almost 50 -- 60 percent of fourth graders in low-income areas don't -- can't even score at basic reading on the NAEP, the National Assessment of Educational Progress test. And that's just not fair. We just can't have that in the United States. It's not acceptable. It's our responsibility to make sure we close that achievement gap, and that's the idea of No Child Left Behind.
Title I schools have gotten money for years, but we still didn't see a huge improvement. So this time the money is actually tied to this accountability piece where we can make sure we aren't failing our children.
Q Mrs. Bush, you travel to schools all over the country. This morning, you met with first graders and fifth graders. What are your impressions of New Mexico's students?
MRS. BUSH: Great. My impressions of American students are really terrific. I love to visit schools. In every school I visit, you see kids who are really bright, who are anxious to learn, who are anxious to please and want to do well in school. And you see teachers who are so committed.
And teaching is hard. Teaching is a very difficult job. It's always challenging. But everywhere I go, I see teachers and principals who are dedicated to their children, who want their children to succeed and want them to do really well. And I think that's what you see here.
In this school, you see a real focus on making sure children learn to read. If you can read, you can do so much better in all your other subjects. If you can't read, you can't read history, you can't read science, it makes it very difficult to do well in any subject.
And all the research shows that if you can learn to read by the end of the third grade, you're on track. If you don't learn to read by the end of the third grade, then your chances of learning to read every year after that decrease. So it's very important. By the time you get to the fourth grade, a lot of your school work is dependent on your reading ability, and by the time you get to high school, almost 100 percent of your school work is dependent on your reading ability.
Q Do you think the act is well funded enough? We get a lot of complaints --
MRS. BUSH: There is more money associated with the No Child Left Behind Act than ever before in any other education bill, ever. And there's never going to be enough funds, we always want more funds. And especially education always wants more funds. Since education is publicly funded, there's always a -- you know, there's never enough, and we know that.
We know that a really good teacher is priceless, and we just can't pay teachers what they're worth. They're worth so much. Every one of us has a memory of a teacher who changed our lives in some way. So I think it's really important for all of us as Americans to respect and support teachers in every way we can. And also for young people who are newly out of college or mid-career people who are looking for a satisfying and fulfilling career to consider teaching as a career. We really need to recruit more teachers. We're going to need many more teachers in the next decade.
So it's important. It's important for teachers to be paid well so we can recruit more. And it's important for us to respect teachers as community members and parents.
Q Mrs. Bush, despite the administration's funding, a lot of teachers when we go out and do stories on the classroom say, you know, that money is not making it here, or it's not making it here effectively. What goes wrong from --
MRS. BUSH: Well, I think that's part of what No Child Left Behind tries to address, and that is for the money to be effective. It is taxpayer money. And taxpayers want to see an increase in scores. They want to know that students are doing better if they're investing money in school districts.
In New Mexico, in 2001, I think the federal -- the Title I funding was about $70.3 million and now, this year, it's $111.1 million for Title I schools in New Mexico alone. And that's a big increase.
Is it enough? Probably no. You know, probably we still need more. But it does show that the federal government does have more of an investment and more of a commitment to Title I schools and schools all over the country.
Schools are mainly funded locally, as you know, by local property taxes in a lot of cases, by states and by local school districts. But the federal government has a role to play. And specifically when they write a bill like the No Child Left Behind Act that combines high standards with accountability, then there is also a responsibility of the federal government to try to help support that with funds.
Okay, thank you all so much. I'm really glad to be here. This is such a terrific school. Thank you all.
Q Mrs. Bush, what are you reading right now?
MRS. BUSH: Pardon me?
Q What are you reading right now?
MRS. BUSH: I'm reading the biography of Frederick Law Olmstead that's called A Clearing in the Distance. It's by a Polish American named Witold Rybczynski, and Olmstead was the landscape architect that designed Central Park.
But I just finished reading The Devil in the White City, which is a very -- it's a history, but it's a really interesting and fun history for anybody who likes to read, about the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. And Frederick Law Olmstead had done a lot of the landscaping for that Chicago World's Fair, so that's why I moved on to his biography.
Thank you all. Thanks so much.
But I did read all the Harry Potters last summer. (Laughter.) I like to read children's literature, too.
Thanks so much. Good to see you all.